The sun was going the way of the hours, and the day was about to do its curtain call. The day before I had not determined what I wanted to do. The stench of the city clogged my lungs and my mind. I remember watching a solitary seagull looking for Lake Ontario, confused due to the thick air. Perhaps I hopped the train under the influence of poor air quality. Perhaps I ran away because of poor life quality.
Whatever the intention, I was extremely hungry, and my pride was lessening each minute. We went through Wawa, where I saw McDonald’ and Pizza Hut. Adding insult to injury was the distinct feeling of the train speeding up, perhaps avoiding its own temptations. I would have jumped just to guarantee some food. The very thought was overwhelming.
I thought ‘how could people go on hunger strikes? Why would you commit to such self-inflicted torture?’ I was only at it for 18 hours, but others did it for days. I was cursing them in my head when I was hit with the most immaculate aroma. It mingled with the senses and caressed the pallet. I had to have it.
I looked over at Papa J. Who, until that point had left me to my thoughts. He made his presence known by subtle coughs, mixed with the shuffling of articles in his backpack. I barely knew anything about this man who, by fluke, had assigned himself to be my travelling companion. Here I was avoiding the world, and here he was, sharing it with me.
The aroma was coming from Papa J. He caught me looking at him.
“What is that?” There must have been something in the way I looked because he almost laughed out loud.
“What, this? It’s gourmet food son. One of a kind, grade A…beef jerky”. Now he did laugh.
“Boy, you must be some kind of hungry to look at me with such desperation. I don’t usually give this premium stuff up.”
“I’ll pay; whatever you want. I’m going nuts knowing there’s food.” I talked like a fool but did not care.
“I don’t want money. I would rather have the one thing that makes this type of trip worth while.”
“And what’s that?” I asked.
“A good conversation.” He took another bite of jerky. It was only jerky, but it looked like steak.
“A good conversation huh? I guess I owe you that, but to get my life story you have to have fries with that.” I chuckled for the first time in a long time.
“Fries. I can’t give you that, but I got a great memory of the best fries in the world. It was on a beach at Jackson’s point. My brother and I would skip classes in June and hang out there. We would sit, talk and fish. The water was always calm. This old man, ‘Shanks’ we called him, had a chip truck there and made a fortune off us. His truck was old, and burned oil, but his fries belonged in a museum. He used to tell us stories as he made our orders. How God had created this beautiful world. How wonderful be alive on a hot day. How the grains of the sand on the beach were counted just like my brother and I. Yeah Shanks talked a good talk, almost as good as his fries.” Now it was his turn to look into the distance. He let out a breath that left me feeling like I was looking at my reflection.
“You have a brother? Must be nice, I have three sisters…”
“Had.” He interrupted.
“Had a brother. I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright son, these things happen. That’s where I’m headed. He lived in Medicine Hat; his wife called two days ago saying the cancer got him. Two years he fought it. When we were young we hopped trains all the time. I’m doing this as a bit of an homage you see.” He winked at me. Funny how a man trying not to cry is more painful then him actually doing it.
“Yeah I see.”
Those words echoed within me. Yeah I see. I had come to an understanding that there must be more than meets the eye. I had just been blind for far too long.
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